Violent murders - There are few answers

Any violent death has a rippling effect that affects surviving relatives, friends and co-workers. Any community where one person's rampage ends the lives of innocent victims also suffers from a fear that fraught with questions but not enough answers.

When such violence occurs in another state or another country, it is too easy to gloss over the details and move on with our own lives.

But a recent shooting at a Jefferson City, Mo., factory once again has shocked our state with the randomness of deadly violence that leaves an entire community mourning and asking those same unanswered questions.

Since the beginning of July, there have been at least three incidents of killing sprees by individuals whose actions will be analyzed for months as authorities attempt to sort out what happened.

Jonathon Russell, a 25-year-old worker on probation for missing work too often at Modine Manufacturing Co. in Jefferson City shot eight of his co-workers, leaving three dead.

Doug Williams, a 48-year-old worker who had been passed over for promotions at the Lockheed Martin aircraft parts plant near Meridian, Miss., shot 14 co-workers, leaving five dead.

In Bakersfield, Calif., a 39-year-old mother and her three children, ages 1 1/2 months to 4 years, and her 70-year-old mother were shot to death in their home. Police said a "potential suspect" is Vincent Brothers, a 41-year-old elementary school vice principal, who is the estranged husband of the dead mother of three. He hasn't been charged.

What compelled Russell and Williams to turn on people they knew and worked with will never be fully understood. Both men killed themselves at the end of their shooting sprees.

But something that cuts through the clutter of questions and sketchy information is that both Russell and Williams showed signs of having deep-seated problems -- problems that were observed by co-workers and even addressed by their employers.

Still, in both cases those who thought they knew Russell and Williams best said they couldn't understand why either of them would do something so horrible.

That's the case in so many acts of random violence, including the horrible school shootings that have marred our complacency. We too often are told that those responsible for multiple deaths signaled their troubled status. But, for whatever reasons, those instances of seething anger or feelings of personal inadequacy weren't addressed in ways that might have prevented more killings.

It's tough to know when to get involved in the personal lives of other people, even those we see every day and think we know fairly well. And trying to sort out the complex issues that lead someone to take a gun to work and start shooting is best left to professionals.

But each of us can be alert to signs that someone is having personal or job-related difficulties that so often are cited after the fact in mass killings. A compassionate act might well prevent another spell of grief.